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LOUISVILLE - It was the game that everybody was thinking about, but nobody really wanted to play.
That was the situation on Tuesday in the opening round of the Girls' Louisville Invitational Tournament as Bullitt East took on Assumption. It was the old head coach at Bullitt East taking on his prodigies as Assumption is now coached by Steve Small.
It was an emotional game long before the opening tip-off.
Before the game at the meeting at mid-court with he captains, officials and head coaches, Small gave Bullitt East assistant coach Christal Stallings a big hug. During the player introductions, the Bullitt East starters all went to the Assumption bench and exchanged high-fives with Small.
Somebody at the Girls' LIT committee has a sense of humor it seems for this game to have ever come about. In the computer rankings used to seed the Girls' LIT, Bullitt East and Pleasure Ridge Park each had the identical numbers. The way the tie was broken was never officially given, but Bullitt East somehow got the nod for the higher seed over the Lady Panthers, putting them in the game opposite Assumption while Small is in his first season as the head coach.
It was 31 years ago that Small started the Bullitt East girls' basketball program after a number of years coaching at Mount Washington Middle School. Small coached three Kentucky All-Stars at Bullitt East and got to one Eighth Region final before stepping down to become an assistant coach at Western Kentucky University. Later, Small would become the Lady Toppers head coach before retiring a number of years ago.
In retirement, Small returned to Mount Washington where he dabbled in helping the Bullitt East program. He was a part of the team that remodeled the girls' locker room a few years ago and he often worked doing the radio color work for the girls' games. As director of the Kentucky Basketball Academy, Small was instrumental in setting up college opportunities for both Bullitt East boys' and girls' players in recent years.
Then the Assumption job opened up and Small couldn't resist a chance to coach once again. A week after taking the Assumption job, Small said in an interview then that he had no interest in scheduling a game with Bullitt East as it would just be too emotional. Since the two teams are in different regions, the chances of a regular season meeting were negligible. Well, the 100 to 1 shot came in with the very first LIT tourney with Small coaching Assumption.
The Lady Rockets had the higher seed in this event and they rallied past Bullitt East, winning 49-42 in a game that was tied at 40-40 with less than two minutes to play.
"When you love everyone on the other bench it really is emotional," Small said after the game. "I really didn't want to play this game for a lot of reasons.
"I probably knew more people sitting on the Bullitt East side than I did the Assumption side," the coach added.
One reason that Small took the Lady Rockets' job was that 6-6 freshman Nora Kiesler had already said she would attend Assumption. Kiesler is still a work in progress, but she had 12 points and ten rebounds in the win over Bullitt East. She appears to be the future of girls' basketball in Jefferson County.
"I feel for the Bullitt East kids. I thought Bullitt East outplayed us," Small said. "I thought they played a perfect game. Our inside people should have been enough. They made it tough for us to run our offense. We won ugly."